After learning some basic tenses, it is time to deepen your knowledge of French grammar with the passé composé, one of the most used past tenses in French.
What is le passé composé?
Le passé composé is the most frequently used past tense in French. It is a compound tense that can be equivalent to the English simple past or present perfect. It refers to past actions or facts that occurred in the past and are terminated at the moment of speaking.
Like the imperfect tense, the passé composé tense is sometimes used with time indicators like the ones listed in the table below.
Time indicator in French
The day before yesterday
La semaine dernière, la semaine passée
Le mois dernier, le mois passé
L'an passé, l'an dernier
Il y a
How to form the passé composé?
The passé composé is a compound tense as its name indicates. That means that you need two elements to build a sentence in the passé composé tense. You need a helping verb called the auxiliary conjugated in present tense and the past participle of the main verb. The helping verb can be avoir or être. Most verbs are conjugated with avoir and only a few ones are used with l'auxiliaire être. I will dedicate very soon a lesson for the passé composé with être.
Je suis allé au supermarché. => I went to the supermarket (suis = the helping verb être conjugated in present tense, allé = the past participle of the verb aller)
Tu as fait la vaisselle hier. => You washed the dishes yesterday. (as = the helping verb avoir conjugated in present tense, fait = the past participle of the verb faire)
When the sentence is in the negative form, keep in mind that the negation words (ne pas, ne plus, ne jamais, ...) should be around the auxiliary verb.
Nous n'avons pas fait la fête le week-end passé. => We didnt't party last week-end.
How to find the past participles of the regular ER, IR, or RE verbs?
Past participles can be easy to guess if you are dealing with regular verbs like those ending with ER, IR, or RE.
For verbs ending with ER, drop the ER ending and replace it with "é." Example
Parler => parlé
Regarder => regardé
For verbs ending with IR, replace the IR ending with the letter "i".
Finir => fini
Choisir => choisi
Regular verbs ending with RE have their past participle ending with the letter "u" after dropping the RE ending.
Attendre => attendu
Perdre => perdu
Finding Past participles of irregular verbs
As you already know, irregular verbs have irregular patterns. So, there is no specific rule for learning them. My advice is to just memorize them.
Here are the past participles of commonly used French verbs with the auxiliary avoir. Some of them can also be used with être but in a different context.
Être (to be) => été pronounced exactly the same way as the weather été(summer)
Avoir (to have) => eu pronounced like the letter 'u" in French
Dire (to say) => dit
Faire => fait
Ouvrir (to open) => ouvert
Offrir (to offer) => offert
Boire (to drink) => bu
Lire (to read) => lu
Prendre (to take) => pris
Mettre (to put) => mis
Devoir (must) => dû
Savoir (to know)=> su
Pouvoir (can)=> pu
Recevoir (to receive) => reçu
Vouloir (to want) => voulu
Tenir (to hold) => tenu
Agreement of the past participle
In general, the past participle stays unchanged without any adjustment or agreement unless there is a complement d'objet direct (COD) placed before the verb.
J'ai mangé une mangue ce matin. => I ate a mango this morning. => No agreement.
La mangue que j'ai mangée n'était pas mûre. => The mango that I have eaten was not ripe. => In this case, we need to make the agreement with the complement of object COD "la mangue" which is placed before the verb.
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Passé composé practice exercises
Here are two exercises you can use to practice the conjugation of Passé composé tense. The first one is relative to the regular verbs and the second one to the irregular ones.
For more exercices you can check out these online exercises.